Two men carry a salvaged sofa down a buckled street in Christchurch
Intense aftershocks rocked earthquake-scarred Christchurch Monday as a violent windstorm threatened to create treacherous conditions for rescuers scouring the rubble for bodies, reports AFP.
The battered city also faced a new danger when cracks opened in a cliff overlooking suburban streets, forcing more residents to flee their homes in the wake of last Tuesday's 6.3-magnitude tremor.
The aftershocks, one measuring 4.7, increased the risk to rescue crews and further jarred the stretched nerves of locals, who have endured two major earthquakes in the past six months.
"One big aftershock and that goes," rescuer John Langan said after the latest shakes, pointing out a towering hotel building listing to one side after shifting on its foundations last week.
"You've got to constantly ask yourself 'a big aftershock, where do I go? Do I run, or am I alright where I am?'."
The death toll from the disaster reached 148 Monday but police expect the final tally to exceed 200, with more than 50 still listed as "unaccounted for" in the rubble of New Zealand's second largest city.
Police have said some victims may never be identified.
The catastrophe flattened office blocks, tore up roads and destroyed the spire of the city's landmark cathedral, leaving one-third of the downtown area facing demolition.
Winds of up to 130 kilometres (80 miles) per hour were forecast to whip through the region on Monday, officials said, likely forcing rescuers to retreat from ruins already on the brink of collapse.
"(It) will of course, if you have gale-force winds, impact on structures, it will affect rescue operations in the area where we have loose masonry," Mayor, Bob Parker said.
In the suburb of Sumner, 200 properties were evacuated after cracks appeared in a cliff, threatening to send the rockface tumbling onto streets below.
No survivors have been found since a woman was pulled from a collapsed office building on Wednesday afternoon, although rescuers said they still hoped for a miracle.
New Zealand Police Association president Greg O'Connor, who is lending support to emergency workers in Christchurch, said the city had suffered its own "Blitz" akin to Nazi Germany's bombing of British cities in World War II.
"You have got to be able to hear the noise and see the people and smell to really understand the seriousness of this," he told Australia's ABC, his voice choked with emotion.
For New Zealand's former Premier, Helen Clark the scene in Christchurch recalled memories of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, which she visited in her role as head of the United Nations Development Programme.
Prime Minister John Key was set to discuss how to rebuild the stricken city with his cabinet and has already said it must be radically transformed if it is to rise from the rubble, with quake-proof buildings.